Some books go so deep it is hard to describe them at all. Starting from a policeman’s retirement, this story opens out into the trauma of Ireland, a violence kept secret, its effects explored with such tenderness and empathy it is heartbreaking. The language and landscape are immense and the love of humanity that comes through every page is extraordinary.
Just one mistaken interpretation of a historic manuscript in the Bodleian is all it takes to send her into the elation of having discovered England’s first female artist- and the stress of the thesis that follows, culminating in the realisation of the mistake, is all it takes for the fatal disintegration of her personality. The journey through her mindscape will chill you with its overlays of everyday relationships and the pathological inability of facts to stay true.
The Rabbit Hutch is the tower-block in which the characters of this novel reside: living in close proximity yet at a distance from one another. There is mundanity, the extraordinary and trauma in the lives depicted, which all converge in a single moment, the moment the novel starts, when the main character 'exits her body'. Shocking from the start, this is a provoking, tumultuous read. It will make you think, laugh and despair in equal measure.
Imagine a city created by a rather malevolent god and watched over by one of his guardian angels. That city is Lagos and the angel looks after the 'vagabonds' - people attracted to the same sex, which is illegal in Nigeria. This is a story about how they survive, undercover of the protection of the angel. It is a story of bewilderment, of defiance, of courage and, most of all, of survival against all the odds.
A disturbing, coming of age story of a young slave girl in 17th century Brazil, seeking to find her identity. As she is moved from plantation to plantation she hears of a place called Palmares where former slaves are said to be free. But is it the paradise it seems? This complex tale is told in a dispassionate way, but is woven with magic realism and mysticism. bringing a sense of hope to an otherwise bleak struggle.
What a lot to pack into one short book! I got totally caught up in each successive generation as the story moved from Cuba to Miami, El Salvador to Texas. The voices are so strong and honest, it’s a moving exploration of women’s strengths and their failures – and a quietly devastating analysis of what they are up against.
A lyrical coming of age story set within early 1980's Poland. We follow soon-to-graduate Ludwik and their rapidly blossoming love affair with Janusz, in the temporary idyll of a summer camp. Soon, the grip of the repressive State exerts its ever stronger hold over Ludwik's attempts to live a life true to themselves. Both the freedom and the constraint is powerfully drawn - I found this an evocative and illuminating read of individual resistance.
Horror, thriller and fantasy meet in this novel, which kept me awake through the night wanting to see how it would end. Liz, a troubled black woman, visits her nearly all-white birthplace to attend the wedding of her best friend Mel. When Mel’s young daughter disappears, it sets in motion long-forgotten memories of a creature in the woods that abducts and maims little black girls. Tense, page-turning stuff.
A chorus of voices combine to reclaim the story of Teha-amana, muse and child-bride of artist Paul Gauguin, and subject of his painting 'Spirit of the Dead Keeps Watch'. Set in Tahiti, the book interweaves exquisite retellings of Polynesian origin myths with troubling colonial power abuses behind the painting. Familiarise yourself with the artwork before reading if you can, as this makes the book's multiple voices resonate even more profoundly.
With the simplicity of a fable, we share the thoughts of twin sisters in the first year of their life. They are contrasting personalities: Rose the social butterfly living in the now; Marigold the introverted overthinker who already feels intense nostalgia for the passing of time. Warmly and with a wry grin, the book allows us to reflect too, on ourselves and on time. In these slim 52 pages, I found a vast sense of empathy, sadness and wonder.
This story is based on a winter George Sands and Frederick Chopin spent in Majorca. Funny, desperate and sensory, it is narrated by a ghostly voyeur seeking revenge for the suffering she endured in her own life. She indulges in both experience and emotion by occupying the bodies and memories of the living. This offers an unexpected tale in the ghost story genre and a different view of Majorca. It will make you laugh, seethe and wonder.
There are flashes of humour but ultimately this is an intimate and brutal novella exploring a woman’s identity through her childhood with an abusive, alcoholic father, her abandonment by her adulterous husband, swiftly followed by a breast cancer diagnosis. The short, poetic sentences make everything immediate, so it is both easy to read and yet gruelling as we watch her endure the endless, traumatic treatment. Devastating but compelling.
This book is just up my street - great for lovers of language and words. I enjoyed it tremendously and almost forgot the Japanese dictionary Majime worked on for 13 years was a work of fiction. Was almost on my way out to buy it! Not only does the story tell in detail how dictionaries are made, from the collation of words to the making of special paper, but it has humour and is also a gentle and tender love story.
This is a tender, beautifully composed book, voiced from the outsider perspective of Michael as two key timelines from his family life play out. At times it is brutal and there are outbursts of devastating violence. But there is so much articulate and generous emotion that, ultimately, hope can be felt - especially in the evocation of mix-music that enables culture to creatively intersect. In this deceptively slight book, every word matters.
You wouldn’t think a book about lynching would be funny, but somehow this police procedural story, that addresses both historical and modern day racism, veers from biting humour to horrifying retribution in a setting both familiar and strange. It's loaded with swearing and racial slurs, but that's all part of the satire. As the deaths pile up, and what began as a revenge crime snowballs into something much bigger, it becomes increasingly unreal.
Smart, macabre, witty and decadent this book is a darkly sensual read. Dorothy is successful food critic with an appetite for sex and violence. This is her memoir written from prison which recounts the murders of her lovers with unsettling precision. Be warned you may find yourself compelled to sympathise with a psychopath or even taking a distasteful enjoyment in her crimes.
A beautiful and poetic novel in which the invasion of a hostile swarm of hornets is compared to the political situation in an Arabic country. Sidi, the main protagonist, is a gentle, nature-loving beekeeper who is living in a remote village. On the discovery of the threat to his beloved bees, he takes action, together with his friends. Superbly written it grabbed my attention from the outset and kept it all the way through.
This starts off so you think it’s going to be magical realism with a virgin birth but it’s much more down to earth than that. Brilliant fifties’ setting, strongly realised characters and a detective-style plot that slowly reveals. It’s witty and subtle as the pain of duty and repressed emotion do battle with unexpected love. A real pleasure to read.
This is a compelling read, offering a glimpse into the life of a Black Country miner and a vivid snapshot of 1870's industrial Britain. Unremittingly bleak, Michael Cash's joyless existence plays out against a Mordoresque backdrop. Events are relayed in a staccato, spare style, words are fused, while the use of local dialect conveys a feeling of authenticity. A pacey and original story which brings history to life - brace yourself and try it.
Brutally honest and authentically contemporary, we follow millennial Edie who, facing insecurity in her job and flatshare, embarks on an affair with an older white man. The book unflinchingly explores the intersections of sex, violence, race and power, and the losses experienced by Edie create an unsettling sense of numbness. But there is sharp humour too, and I was left feeling astonishment at the fluid beauty of the book’s language.
I just couldn’t stop reading - I became immensely involved in the story about this dysfunctional family, with the seriously disabled Lucien, the heroic, heart-warming, endearing but also clumsy efforts of 13-year old Brian to look after him, as well as the frustratingly neglectful behaviour of Maurice, their father. But despite the dismal situation I felt compassion, love and care take the lead. Lightness prevails where awkwardness threatens.
Sensual, striking and funny, this novel examines the vampire genre through a modern lense. Lydia explores her dual identities of demon and human, and Asian and British, searching for belonging in food, art and relationships. This is a gripping, thrilling and immersive read to sink your teeth into.
Stories about sexual violence and police corruption do not make for easy reading and the young black woman at the centre of this story is faced with a relentless reality of exploitation. That said, the lush writing, though intense, is never sentimental and Oakland's diverse landscape is vividly brought to life. This novel was inspired by real events, which lends it, I think, an added poignancy.
Despite the serious topic, I found this a lyrical story, full of hope. After the abolition of slavery two brothers turn up at George's small farm and start working for him. His son Caleb was allegedly killed in the Civil War. When August, Caleb’s lover, kills one of the brothers out of panic and hate against the freed slaves, things heat up very quickly. The strength of the novel is in the grey tones: neither side is entirely good or bad.
Federico, mixed-race but white passing, struggles with the privilege he experiences compared to his darker skinned brother. Past incidents reveal Federico's motivations for his work for racial equality and conflicts between theory and lived experience are exposed. The stream of consciousness narrative, though challenging, gives a close connection to the protagonist and makes for an intense, thought provoking read.
In this intellectually challenging story I was drawn into the lives of three complicated characters in search of love. Confronted with three versions of the same story I was constantly alert: who is telling what, and why. Is one of them possessed by an ancient diary writer? Who is responsible for whom? A crisis in the harsh Scottish countryside seems to give an answer, but is that really so?
This is a rabbit-hole of a read, full of playful digressions that question the fabric of reality. The experience is one of artful disorientation, as we are led by the blackly humorous, misanthropic narration of self-aware narcissist Vanessa, a literary translator, through corridors of an abduction mystery intercut with philosophical meditation, product placement and holiday snapshots. A surreal trickster of a book that defies categorisation.
Although very loosely taking its lead from crime fiction, this book is more a pastoral hymn to the interconnectedness of things. As outcast villager Marcelino goes into hiding, we move through a fully realised Spanish countryside, created through myth, fable and rural rhythms, and the intermingling of past and present. This is a mindful reading experience, poetic and lyrical: each word combination is to be savoured.
I really enjoyed the authentic voice of Alethea in this novel. Despite the terrible life she has, there is hope to be found in friendship and the strong bond of family. Her love for her work in a clothes shop gives her a new perspective to escape her abusive boyfriend. But even so, I found the scenes of abuse tough to read.
What if the reason you felt you didn't fit in was because you were engineered that way? This novel follows Bella: the result of a eugenics program creating designer babies. Through twists and turns and flashbacks to her childhood, we learn about the sinister undertones of her early years, and why, as an adult, she is running. This is a fast paced thrill of a book, with some real ethical dilemmas at its heart.
This is a hugely emotional read that will seep into your every waking moment – and maybe even your dreams. It's suffused with warmth and sadness but pockets of real humour bring light in the darkness. The overriding feeling is one of love, which shines as a beacon through Isaac's pain and loss. But what about the story – and who or what is the egg? Impossible to describe in a few words – so please just read the book and discover for yourself.
When children begin falling sick in a rural community, a multitude of conflicts are scratched wide-open. Told largely through the eyes of 11 year old Hannah, this entertaining and empathetic read pulls you in many directions: from the sadness and horror of illness to the rich humour of early Nineties pop culture. A ghost story, a study of the end of childhood, and an examination of faith in Northern Ireland, this is a vivid and exhilarating read.
This is a raw and provocative read set in a near future where the state punishes mothers deemed to be unsuitable. To win their children back, mothers must be retrained in a harsh and dehumanising institution. Both emotional and disturbing, the thrilling and involving plot is set against the prejudices of society and the pressures of parenting. Parents, you may lose sleep over this book.
Spanning thousands of years and numerous and diverse locations, this is the story of a deadly virus and its implications for the future of the human race. Told through a myriad of inter-linked stories which are at times tender, often desperately sad and always dark and probing, this novel explores death and grief and our responsibilities for one another and our planet.
Prepare yourself for a powerful and philosophical read with a fusion of narrative styles. Addressing identity, gender, race and class, it explores too how the ghost of Empire still haunts Britain and the impact this has on the life of a high-achieving black woman. Despite its brevity, this is a book which speaks volumes, easily read in one sitting and perhaps the better for it.
Beautifully rendered and wryly observed, this novel touches on family, mental illness and the therapeutic properties of gardening. The broken, fragmented narrative brings to mind a cubist painting, but this is a portrait with surprising detail and depth; a powerful coming-of-age story which rewards the reader with the rich interior world of a mute girl.
I really engaged with this beautifully written, poetic tale of survival and death during a pandemic (not Covid). It’s hard to say that I enjoyed it because it is distressing but also uplifting in many ways. Be prepared for detailed sex scenes, delivered in forthright, language, from a woman’s point of view.
This book is a Jacobean bloodbath driven by a supernatural Elk seeking retribution from the Indian community. The light-touch but intimate feel of Native American life, with all its heritage or baggage, brings home the failings and longings of the human characters, as the animal spirit reeks its revenge. A haunting, unusual and brutal novel.
Genre-wise, this is difficult to pin down. It moves from witty office politics to chilling social commentary on racial microaggressions, spinning into a creepy magical realism/science fiction thriller! I actually had to read it twice to really grasp what was going on, but I was gripped both times!
Subversive and powerful, this one grabs you by the throat. A young artist navigates her way through the complexities and traumas of motherhood and the physical and mental changes that threaten to overwhelm her. Mysticism and the folklore of her Appalation heritage influence her decisions in this quirky and outrageous tale. The read is intimate and graphic, earthy and darkly funny. The, at times, surreal narrative pulls no punches.
Set in a young ladies' finishing school in the remote hills of Rwanda, increasing racial tensions reflect national attitudes. Despite the seriousness of the subject matter, there are many moments of humour. Girls will be girls, and I was charmed by them and by this remarkable novel.
A surreal thriller combined with a satirical commentary on modern capitalism, environmental exploitation and the nature of tourism. Yona works for a travel company organising trips to disaster zones, but when she ends up on one of their holidays to an island off Vietnam, she finds that things are not quite as they seem. An original and intriguing story that holds you in its grip as ever increasing danger draws it towards a climax.
This is an urgent, dark and vividly told adventure which will drawn you in for a provocative thrill ride. Set in an alternate reality where magic is real and witches are violently persecuted, the story follows two witches coming to terms with their power and discovering their responsibility in establishing a just society.
A propulsive read. We follow local vigilante Virgil in his attempts to cleanse the Rosebud Reservation of drug gangs. Vivid descriptions of Native American spirituality are mixed with hard-boiled noir, as Virgil navigates the conflicting elements of his identity. The combination is memorable, delivering both the punch of a crime thriller, and an enlightening insight into systemic challenges facing contemporary indigenous American life.
A parallel story to the podcast of the same name, this novel is an edge of your seat thrill ride through the worlds of a dark and mysterious alternate reality game. With a backdrop of pop culture references and vintage tech, cryptic clues are gathered and solved moving the game forward and as things begin to get scary, the boundaries between play, reality and possibility become blurred.
Mahindan and his young son, Sellian, flee their war-torn homeland of Sri Lanka and board a boat to Canada, hoping for a better life there. As Mahindan waits in jail for his lawyer and the adjudicator to decide his future, Sellian is taken into foster care where he begins a new life in a democratic society. This candid insight into the desperation of asylum seekers was sobering, so be prepared to be moved by this timely tale, just as I was.
This book explores the minutiae of life under occupation, making the reader feel the fears, frustrations and brutalities. It confronts you with war's atrocities and is brave enough to withhold narrative judgment to allow you to make up your own mind. Uncomfortable and at times harrowing, yet ultimately an important novel about the forgotten voices in war that deserve to be heard.
Sally tells the story of her mid-life antics involving her 'creative' son, her overwhelmed new-mum daughter, her politician spouse, a rat-catching lodger, two long-standing friends, and a neighbour with an unhealthy interest in rhubarb leaves. Sally's life is all wrapped up in a comical coat of witty observation and good old-fashioned British humour guaranteed to raise a smile (and an eyebrow).
A dark vein of satire definitely hits the mark in this road trip novel. A journey of self-discovery is peppered with screwball surrealistic descriptions of the minutiae of life that is absurd, tender and indignant. The social reality is the beating heart of this light yet thoughtful read, enhanced by the needling, genuine friendship of the characters and some colourful writing.
Told through repeated refrains like a prayer recital or affirmation, this is a fast, lyrical read. Each short chapter finds narrator Fatima, French of Algerian descent, examining the different, often conflicting, layers of her identity and the rules structuring her world – her faith, sexuality and family. Fatima’s generous honesty carries us with her, and makes for a sometimes abrasive, exhilarating and enlightening sharing of experience.